Last Friday at my field placement, it was Grandparents' Day at the elementary school. All of the children in the school's grandparents were welcome to come to school with their grandchildren on this day, and they followed along with the students during their lessons in the morning. Most grandparents then took their grandchildren out for lunch, and spent the afternoon with them outside of school. Because of this, the lesson plan for the day was changed from what it normally is, and after lunch, there were only about five of the fifteen students left in the classroom.
Although it wasn't a normal school day, I still made a lot of interesting observations this day, especially in terms of class--although I encounter a good bit of diversity at my Friends school placement, it is still interesting to me that every single student's grandparents in my placement class were able and willing to take time out of their day to spend time with their grandchild. Would this have been different in a public school setting a mere few blocks away from this center city school? Probably. In a less affluent school setting, it might be considered presumptuous to assume every grandparent is able to take time out of their day to spend time with their grandchild at school, and them take them out of school for the afternoon--perhaps the grandparent has to work, or has other commitments; perhaps they are not retired at as early of an age as some more affluent people in the Philadelphia area. These are important things to consider.
Since my field placement school is currently on spring vacation (and for the next week as well), I'm writing about my French teaching assistant work.
A problem I keep encountering is a disconnect between what the professor (who is my supervisor, the teacher who is in charge of the lesson plans for all the French students at the intermediate level, for which I am a TA) expects students to get out of their TA sessions and what they are ready to do in TA sessions. What I mean by this is: how do you make the most of not being able to control the major lesson plan for students? How do you make their extra (mandatory) sessions meaningful in the context of their class when I don't really know what they are doing in class, and when they are in need of much more review than the professor thinks they are? When we have grammar lessons, (i.e. subjunctive) the professor gives us (the TAs) at least ten activities to do with the students...and when we start the first one, it becomes clear to met that nobody even knows the steps to take to conjugating a verb into the subjunctive. So we go really slowly through the first activity, going through the steps together as a group, and there are nine other activities for the group to do that we haven't gotten to yet.
I suppose the fact that I am attentive to their needs is the answer to these questions. I should really talk to the professor about it...but to be honest, we don't really talk as a group about the TA work we do. Another option could be talking to the other TAs about it to see what they have to say.
Today at my school placement in a center city private school second grade classroom, the three second grade classrooms were coming together to celebrate the one hundredth day of school. The teachers collaborated on an activity for the students to group up, supervised by a teacher, and tape off specified "100" measurements on the floor around the school.
After the teachers discussed which students will work together well, they put students into groups of three to four, and assigned a teacher to each group. I went along with Teacher P (my mentor teacher)'s group.
The activity didn't have much structure other than the directions of the teachers helping the students measure out 100 centimeters, 100 inches, 100 feet, and 100 meters along the carpeted floor of the school hallways. When we began the activity, arguments immediately ensued about who would have which job, who got to hold the meter stick, who got to put the tape on the ground to mark the measurement this time...it was a little chaotic, especially when we started measuring 100 meters. At this point, Teacher P and I decided to divide the group into two groups--two students to put the meter stick along the floor and mark each one with a small piece of tape, two to take the large roll of tape and follow the other groups' measurements--to help everyone stay on task.
I'm a little frustrated, because I haven't been able to attend my field placement for the past two weeks due to being sick, and then the students having a Friday off (which I wasn't told about!). I'm choosing an event from my French teaching assistant (TA) work from a week ago that I still remember well.
1. and 2.: Collect stories/What happened?
The TA sessions that I lead for intermediate French students are meant to be conversation-based. I have nine students this semester. The professor who organizes TA meetings is mostly responsible for the content of our sessions (activities, lesson ideas, etc). We have quite a bit of freedom with timing and pacing of the lesson, which I like.
We are usually given way more activities than the students are capable of completing in any given weekly hour-long session. The activities are not completed for a grade--it's just extra practice. This week, the professor gave me specific activities scanned from a workbook on the subject of film/cinema in France, since this was the focus of vocabulary for the students that week.
I really appreciate reading McEntee et al.'s At the Heart of Teaching--I really appreciate getting a more pragmatic point of view on teaching to coincide with the more theoretical pedagogical discussions we've had on Dewey and Freire (which I also deeply appreciate). I really like how much the writers mention the importance of dialogue among teachers (as well as with individual practice) to take the time to reflect on what happened in the classroom--to really question every action taken, even (especially?) if it was a spur-of-the-moment decision made. From personal experience as a growing educator, this reflection practice has always been invaluable to me to help me focus on specific elements of my practice that need improvement. When I have reflected on these specific things I want to work on, it's almost like I have a new toolbox in my head full of specific tactics I can draw on when I find myself falling back on habits I want to break.
This was my second visit to my independent school placement in center city with Teacher P's second grade classroom. We had morning meeting again where we played an interactive game discussing what we were going to do during the weekend. During the student's half hour at PE, Teacher P and I discussed the upcoming math lesson, and how one student struggles to work independently with his math work. She told me that this student, T, will be starting during this coming week to take medication for ADD symptoms. I am not sure if he has been diagnosed for ADD--I assume so since he is starting medication. She expressed some concern about never having taught a student on this medication before. She also mentioned that the adjustment process may be a difficult one, and that she was anticipating that. I am curious to see how T is doing this week since he started taking the medication--updates to come.
The reflections on pedagogy of both Dewey and Freire, read in tandem, show some interesting parallels, but also show some surprising differences in terms of conversations surrounding class, race, entitlement, and power. While both Dewey's "Pedagogic Creed" as well as Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed mention that education accounts for the individual as well as the "collective" (for example, Dewey: psychological and sociological aspects of ed), Dewey does not seem to account for the inherent entitlement to power and agency of mainstream (American?) students. While I think Dewey and Freire's pedagogies run parallel in many ways, Freire takes ideas of Dewey--the importance of self awareness; education as an engagement with the world around us; the importance of action/experience--and runs further with them to address what Dewey only hints at when he writes at the end, that the teacher "is engaged, not simply in the training of individuals, but in the formation of the proper social life" (12). Freire helps us learn how to teach from within a problematic societal structure, which Dewey doesn't do as explicitly.
Setting: A private, independent second grade elementary classroom in center city
Today was my first day at this new placement. The first day is always an unpredictable one, because I, as well as the teacher and students, are figuring out what role I will have in the classroom during my visits. In past field placements, it has been clear that I will have an observational role only, but in this placement, it seems as if the teacher (referred to as Teacher P) is open to me taking an active role in the classroom--participating in group activities, talking and interacting with the students, helping out with setup for activities.
Although my group's Ghana Study presentation on language diversity was quite a few weeks ago, I still think often of the role language plays in Ghanaian society and education systems. Connecting to readings we've done in Pim's class on the subject of language in a postcolonial society, I find there are two (broadly speaking) schools of thought: the more idealistic (think Decolonizing the Mind of Ngugi wa Thiong'o) and the more pragmatic (think The Education of a British Protected Child of Chinua Achebe). Ideally, native language should play a huge role in national identity and pride. Speakers could be making concrete efforts to write in the language and to speak it. However, thinking more pragmatically, a unifying language (like English) could serve a purpose of being a place of neutrality and unification. Achebe writes, "The great thing about being human is our ability to face adversity down by refusing to be defined by it, refusing to be no more than its agent or its victim." He writes of a "middle ground...where the human spirit resists an abridgement of its humanity." And I think using English (in the context of Ghanaian education) could be the kind of middle ground about which Achebe writes.
I find it useful to solidify theoretical connections before traveling to Ghana for the practical side of seeing theory in action. Connecting what we've been learning back to the readings we've done helps me contextualize and reflect on what to notice while abroad, and how to make sense of it.
I'm thinking about all of the readings we've done, but particularly of María Lugones' perception of "playfulness," and how this trait develops from not being "fixed"--that is, when we embrace the reality of inhabiting different worlds (material and figurative).
I see clear connections between plurality and the dangers of thinking in hierarchies, as well as agency and how "damage-centered" thinking is not innate. We can teach ourselves to think relatively...to refrain from comparison...to see things for what they are with a critical but forgiving/relative eye. We can be open and see things from different perspectives...what we inherit is not fixed. Literacies, plurality, and playfulness go hand in hand, and are especially good things to keep in mind while traveling.
I'm really looking forward to the trip.